Image found here.
In 1905, Albert Einstein published his “Theory of Special Relativity” in which he stated that the laws of physics are the same for all non-accelerating observers and that the speed of light in a vacuum was independent of the motion of all observers. According to Wikipedia, “Special relativity says that every person has their own time. One person’s clock says something different from another person’s clock. The reason a person’s time can be different from another’s is because of time dilation.”
In 1915, he published his “General Theory of Relativity” in which he postulated that a massive object like a star warps space and time through its gravity. Think of how a heavy bowling ball warps a trampoline. The warping of the trampoline is akin to the warping of time and space due to the gravity of a celestial body. Since then scientists have confirmed the warping of both space and time through numerous experiments.
Image found here.
What inspired Einstein’s two famous theories?
The inspiration came from a little-known trip to the Philippines in 1904 with his first wife, Mileva Maric, herself a well accomplished Serbian physicist. At that time, he was a patent clerk in Switzerland and needed a reprieve from his job as well as from his work in theoretical physics. He and his wife chose to visit Manila. Despite his best efforts, Einstein’s mind could not and would not stray far from his beloved thought experiments in physics.
While staying a hotel, he was invited by guests to pay respects to Jose Rizal at nearby Luneta Park. Although they had never met, Einstein felt an affinity for Rizal due to the similar history of oppression of the Philippines as well as the Jewish population in Europe. After paying respects to Rizal on the site of his 1896 execution, Einstein was invited to tour the park.
On this hot sweltering day, while walking through Luneta Park with a halo-halo in his hand and absentmindedly musing about space, time, and gravity with his wife, he observed Manila residents training with swords and sticks.
A representative halo halo, the treat that Einstein was having while touring Luneta Park. Image found here.
While observing them, Einstein and Maric both noticed that, while the young players had more speed and power, the older players seemed to negate the superior speed and power by creating space and time for themselves in various ways. Einstein muttered to himself that “it seems like they are warping both space and time” to gain an advantage over the younger players.
It occurred to Einstein, that the older player might resemble a massive object in space, being able to warp both space and time. “Hmm, what if I substitute a star in place of that old master?” In addition, it seemed to Einstein as though the master seemed to manipulate time in a way that the younger player could not. This provided the “aha!” moment for Einstein. While it took years of work, this was the inspiration for his two famous papers and change the course of scientific history.
What did Einstein see in Luneta Park on that day to inspire him to come up with these history changing insights?
According to long lost notes recently discovered in Hill Valley, California, Einstein observed the following:
(1) The older player (whether it be a master or one with more experience) used economy of motion to manipulate space and time in his favour and thereby negate the speed of the lighter, younger and more nimble players.
(2) Superior footwork helped to either dilate or shrink space-time in favour of the master. For example, the master could employ defensive footwork to evade an attack and thereby buy time and space for his counter attack.
(3) Maric pointed out to Einstein another way in which space-time was seemingly warped. She noticed, for example, that feinting and baiting produced desirable effects for the driver. In one instance, a master attacked his younger partner with an angle 1 strike. While the young student was turning to block the angle 1 attack, the right side of his head became vulnerable to a hook punch from the master. The master had warped space in his favour to create an opening and manipulated time so that the younger student could not counter in time.
(4) The choice of weapons often favoured the senior master. It was observed that the senior sometimes favoured a lighter stick to increase his speed. By increasing the speed of his stick, the master was able to stack the odds in his favour by manipulating the space-time continuum.
(5) An excitable gentleman from California who bore an uncanny resemblance to Einstein shouted at him “Great Scott! They’re pushing and pulling with their empty hand while using the stick in the other hand!” The senior player used the check hand to push and pull to either create more time and space for himself or to shrink space-time for his opponent.
While finishing the last of his halo-halo, Einstein noted that time appeared to be relative to the players. Where the master perceived himself at going at a measured pace, the younger player perceived the master playing at tremendous speed. Two different players saw different speeds, time, and space. Time seemed to be relative. The remaining notes from that day are indecipherable and it is not known what other insights Einstein and Maric gleaned on their visit to Luneta Park. It is not known how those notes ended up in Hill Valley, California.
As he and Maric boarded the ship for their return trip to Europe, he surely must have wondered, if space-time could be warped or manipulated in Luneta Park, whether this could hold true for the universe? He knew that he needed to make sense of the disparate elements of space, time and relativity percolating in his mind as his ship sailed. However, it is clear that the ability of those in Luneta Park to manipulate space and time profoundly impacted Einstein and possibly changed the course of scientific history.*
*Substantial artistic license was taken with the entire story. In other words, it was entirely made up. 🙂
I would like to thank the following physicists for vetting and verifying the basic physics in this article: Dr. Jim Jaques, Dr. Rob de Haan, and Dr. Jorge-Amando Benitez. I also would like to thank Guro Terry Dayot for his Filipino cultural suggestions.
Dr. Benitez passed along an article about Reinabelle Reyes, a brilliant Filipina scientist, who recently proved Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity on a cosmic scale at the age of 26. Looks like a future Nobel Prize Winner!